It is safe to say that sports is one of the most important things in America. Friends and co-workers have office pools for March Madness where everyone tries to properly guess how the games will be won and lost. In the fall, they create imaginary football teams and compete against other imaginary teams. Over the summer and into the fall, millions of hours are spent watching baseball games and predicting who will wind up in the World Series. We focus on sports, and more importantly, we focus on athletes, almost to the point of worship.
If you were asked to list the 25 or 50 most famous people in America, there would likely wind up being three types on that list: politicians, actors, and athletes. Even non sports fans like me recognize these names: Manny Pacquaio, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, Albert Pujols, Alexander Rodriguez, Phil Mickelson, Venus & Serena Williams.
We look up to these individuals for their skills and abilities. I suspect many imagine what it is like to make that last-second three pointer, to blast a game winning home run, or to make the final touchdown needed to win the Super Bowl.
Multiple companies offer to sell us their wares so that we can be more like those athletes. For only $400, we can wear the same shoes as Kobe or for only $300, we can own the same driver as Tiger or Phil. For a nominal price, we can even buy a copy of their jersey! We can deck ourselves out and imagine sitting on the bench next to them at the big game!
But we often overlook the fact that serious athletes spend hour upon hour upon hour practicing their skills. They have dedicated coaches to point out the flaws in their techniques and to push them to improve. Dedicated athletes change their entire lives because of their sport. They change their diets and their sleep patterns, and frequently do not have time to play around or entertain themselves as the average Joe. They spend almost every day during their season practicing for their next game, and almost every day in their off-season preparing for their next season. In short, their lives are dedicated to becoming the best player that they can, and having the most time possible in the game.
Now, compare that with the average church member. If we show up for church (practice) twice a month, we think we've done a huge thing. If we write down all the points from our pastor (coach) we think that it will make a difference somehow. But in all seriousness, we typically have zero interest in changing anything about ourselves in order to be better Christians (athletes). We're not about to change our diet of what we take in with regards to spending less time watching TV or movies and instead reading Scripture. There's no WAY that we're going to get up 30 minutes early to pray before we dash off to work. Above all, should ANYONE point out something that we're doing wrong or incorrectly, we're not going to thank them, we'll probably just scream "DON'T JUDGE ME!!"
The average Christian loves the IDEA of wearing the team jersey and sitting on the bench. Oh, and don't forget my Participation Trophy, please! But in all honesty, we not only aren't even actually interested in any playing time on the field, if our coach suggests it, we're liable to not even come back to practice for a while...
Consider what the author of Hebrews tells us in Chapter 12, Verse 1: "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,"
Show up for practice. Change your diet. Listen to your coach and change your actions. Realize that when a team mate points out something you're doing wrong, they almost certainly are tying to help you play better. Above all, be ready to hop off the bench when your name is called. Beg for opportunities to get in the game!